A trail of blood marked the path from the rescuer’s car to our Melrose Small Animal Hospital. The chicken he carried was bleeding from her feet, and a deep wound gaped along the right side of her body.
The hen, now named Donna, is a Cornish chicken, a breed used for meat. She came from a nearby farm, where she lived in a pen with a wire floor often used to expedite cleanup. That would explain how her feet came to be torn and bloody.
The wound in her side was inflicted by a rooster who attempted to mount her. Cornish chickens, or “broilers” as they’re known in the industry, have been selectively bred to grow rapidly to an unnatural size, reaching their massive “market weight” when they are just 39 days old and arriving at the slaughterhouse still peeping like babies. Cornish chickens’ heavy, unwieldy bodies cause them much suffering and susceptibility to deformities, lameness, and sudden heart failure. The chickens’ weight also makes mating extremely dangerous for hens. Because the males are so large, they can accidentally tear the skin of the females when performing natural breeding behavior. Due to this risk, we keep male and female Cornish chickens who have been rescued from commercial meat production separated at our shelters. However, the owner of the facility where Donna lived did not.
Donna’s suffering caught the attention of a contractor working at this particular facility. When he inquired what would happen to the injured bird, he was told that the farmer was going to “take a hammer to her.” Having also worked on many projects at our New York Shelter, the contractor had a better idea. He asked if he could take the hen instead, and the farmer agreed. Shortly thereafter Donna was receiving first aid from Farm Sanctuary caregivers.
Donna was soon on the mend, and although her feet still require daily treatments, she has already left the misery of her past life behind. As her wounds heal and a healthier diet helps her lose weight, she is cheerfully settling in with her new flock and showing off her curious, active, happy, and ridiculously talkative personality. Defying a death sentence in the ruthless machine that is our modern meat industry, this hen is now full of life.